COVID-19 has worked its way into all of our daily routines — from extra hand-washing to adapting our expectations at the grocery store. But for parents, this “new normal” comes with the additional challenge of knowing what to say to their kids to help them understand.
Here are five tips to prepare parents for these tough conversations.
Don’t be scared
Chances are your kid has already heard about COVID-19, and a lack of information can actually make children feel more anxious. By talking to your kids, you have the opportunity to not only make sure they’re getting accurate information, but also that it’s being presented in a reassuring way. Help your kid understand that information from friends or social media isn’t always reliable, and make yourself a resource for facts.
If you’re feeling anxious, your kids will feel it. Take some time to answer your own questions and ease your fears before any discussions with your child. Reassure your child that the chances of them catching the virus are low.
Pick up on cues
Get a feel for how much your child already knows and how much more they want to know. Ask what they’ve heard and how it makes them feel. Then give them ample time to ask questions. This will help address what’s most important to them without accidentally prompting any extra fears.
Too much information or information that is too advanced can be overwhelming. Rather than volunteer everything you know about COVID-19, tailor your conversations around their questions and answer with clear information. If you’re unsure of how to best explain the situation, use outside resources. “Sesame Street” and child life specialist Genevieve Lowry have great interactive ways to help younger children understand. Activities and worksheets from the Association of Child Life Professionals are geared toward teens.
Focus on safety
Just like adults, kids need to feel a sense of security in times of uncertainty. Emphasize the steps you’re taking to stay safe and protected from COVID-19. Teach your kids to wash their hands for 20 seconds — two times through the “Happy Birthday” song — before and after they eat, each time they use the bathroom, when they come inside and after they sneeze, cough or blow their nose. Make sure they understand the importance of staying 6 feet away from others and show them how to sneeze and cough into their elbow instead of their hands. These small steps can help them feel like they’re contributing to safety versus hiding in fear.
Bottom line: Help your child understand COVID-19 through open, calm and safety-focused conversations.
Child Life Specialist Christina McHenry joined Ashton Day of the Columbia/Boone County Health Department on April 2, 2020, to discuss how to explain COVID-19 to children.